COOKING OILS

REPORTER: HELEN WELLINGS.

We've become cooking oil-mad - buying more olive oil per capita, apart from Mediteraneans, than any other nation. But just what do you choose for the trolley ... extra virgin olive, light, vegetable oil, sunflower, safflower, oils from nuts, avocado, coconut, sesame seed oil? What's healthiest?

Caitlin Reid, Dietician for Australian Healthy Food Guide says, "There are so many oils available at the moment on the supermarket shelves. You can see why people get confused and just have no idea of what they'll buy."She warns, watch your intake. Oils are high in kilojoules and are between 90% to 100% fat.

Certain oils can be good for the heart. Others are downright unhealthy, such are those high in saturated fats and transfats which constitute a heart risk and have the potential to stack on the weight. She indicates one brand which contains 4.5% transfats. "That's very high.""Look for the type of fat. You want an oil higher in unsaturated fat - so go for those higher in poly-unsaturated and mono-unsaturated fats, and lower in the saturated fat. "You're really looking for a product that's less that 20 gms per hundred grams in saturated fat."

Coconut oil, and palm oil, are saturated fat - steer clear. "Coconut oil will increase your risk of heart disease so definitely one to avoid," says Caitlin.

So unhealthy are transfats, they've been banned in some countries, such as Denmark and some US States - but not here. For example, Coles Canola oil - 4.6% transfats -that's high risk!

If you have four oils in the pantry, these are the ones Caitlin suggests for a good variety:

* Sunflower -- for baking and roasting,

* Extra Virgin Olive Oil is best -- for dipping the bread in, salads, roasted

vegetables and for pan frying and baking;

*Peanut oil - for the stirfries and Asian cuisines.

* Canola oil -- good for low to medium temperature cooking; grilling but don't

have too high temperature you don't want to fry with that.

OLIVE OILS:

The NSW government, commissioned by the Australian olive industry, tested to the international standard 12 olive oils labelled as "extra virgin". Extra Virgin must be pure, never mixed with other oils, and from the first cold pressing of olives.The three Australian ones were found to be high quality and pure. They passed the tests.

All nine imported ones failed - Spanish, Italian and Greek oils by Carbonell, Moro, Isabella, Bertolli, Paese Mio, Woolworths Home Brand imported Olive Oil Spray which contained some canola, and three oils from Woolworths "Select" range, failed. They were found to be either poor quality refined oil, or old, in one case rancid, or heat-treated, not olive oil at all.

90% of the olive oil on the Australian market is from Spain and Italy. "Because Italy is famous for olive oil, they think it must be good oil," says Mark Troy, former Managing Director of Origin Groves which owns Aussie brand Viva.

He and Douglas Pollard, of Barkworth Olive Groves, have been warning our government about cheap and adulterated imports for years. "They think Spanish oil is good but the Spanish oil could well be from Turkey, the Italian oil could well be from Tunisia". Mark Troy in a blind taste test can pick the imports immediately. He says they smell awful and stale - he wouldn't even taste them. "They are trash," he concludes.

Recent tests by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission again failed Isabella Extra Virgin Olive Oil, and Paese Mio Organic Extra Virgin olive oil, also Aigeon 100% Extra Virgin Olive Oil. They were not extra virgin olive oil at all. Back to other types of vegetable oils in the market today -- Caitlin sings the praises of avocado oil {good for dipping the bread in and for salads}. Macadamia and almond are good for cooking in high temperatures so can be used in a stirfry as well. But walnut oil can't take high temperatures, so it's for salads only. Peanut oil's best for wok cooking, Sesame oil can't take the heat, so is not suitable for wok cooking.

ADVICE:

* Check the label on the container to find out the type of fats in the oil.

* Make sure the saturated fat is less than twenty grams per hundred.

* beware of coconut oil and palm oil which are high in saturated fats.

* Australian grown extra virgin olive oils have been found to be fresher and

truer to their label than many of the imported varieties.

* Before choosing extra virgin olive oils, remember that the Australian Olive

Association has a new Code of Practice which guarantees the

authenticity and quality of certified extra virgin olive oils. Companies

which have signed up for the Code carry a symbol on their packaging.

Look for the green Australian Certified Extra Virgin symbol on the pack

if you want to know it's the real deal.

Contact the Australian Olive Association at www.australianextravirgin.com.au

or e-mail: caitlinreid@healthandthecity.com.au

Caitlin Reid, Dietician: visit the website at: www.healthandthecity.com.au